Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Durang Durang—Post 5 Theatre—SE Portland

Pulling Out all Stops

This absurdist comedy is by the award-winning playwright, Christopher Durang and is directed by Samuel Dinkowitz.  It is playing at the Post 5 space at 1666 SE Lambert St. in the Sellwood area (parking lot in the rear) through March 28th.  For more information, go to their site at

Durang doesn’t fool around when professing/confessing his view of Life, Art and People.  If you peel back the layers of his witticism you will see…more layers of witticism.  No, actually, he does reveal his view of the Catholic religion, the electronic age, therapy, actors, et. al. in past plays and, let me tell ya, it ain’t good.

In this one, parody plays an important part.  In simplest terms, a parody is a satirical view of a literary work and sometimes used to comment on a travesty of some sort.  Both definitions can of use here, I believe, as it applies to his situations.  The production consists of six short plays, part of them commenting on paying humorous homage to past classic writers and the others commenting on the human condition.

I must iterate early on that the cast of six is extremely talented, not to be only playing about two dozen characters, but being able to successfully translate this difficult style of theatre to the stage.  I’ll give you their names now, because to identify all the characters associated with a role would just confuse you.  They are:  Philip J. Berns, Keith Cable, Heath Koerschgen, Pat Janowski, Kelly Godell and Jessica Tidd, most of them in previous Post 5 productions and all very talented.

The first selection is a monologue by a Mrs. Sorken (Cable) who does a rather good job of explaining the origins of the words drama and theatre and of their creators, especially the Greeks.  She also explains how listless her life is having not been a part of these artistic endeavors.  In short, the Arts can bring light and life to otherwise routine existences.

The second presentation, “For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls,” is a parody of Tennessee Williams’, The Glass Menagerie.  And, I hate to say this, but if you’re not familiar with the play, most of the humor/story will go over your head.  So, I believe, a brief recap (as it relates to this presentation), is in order.  This was Williams’ first theatrical success and it reflects the memories of his childhood, his domineering mother, his reclusive sister whose world consisted of little glass animals, and a friend of his, Jim, a gentleman caller, who may be his, and his sister’s, only salvation from their stifling upbringing.

In this version, Laura, the sister is transformed into Lawrence (Berns), a crippled brother who collects swizzle sticks, and the visitor, is a loud-mouth girl called Ginny (Godell).  Oddly the play does follow somewhat closely the last Act of the original play with many satirical touches, of course.  The third play, “A Stye in the Eye,” is a collection of various characters and situations from Sam Shepard’s shows.  It deals, again, in an offbeat way, with themes that are rampant in his shows such as incest, dysfunctional families, dual personalities, troubled pasts, symbols, and even artichokes.  Again, knowing Shepard’s plays would help decipher the humor.

“Nina in the Morning,” seems to reference classical plays, such as Chekov and foreign films, especially Malle and possibly a touch of Bergman.  A fading beauty, Nina (Janowski), is unsuccessfully trying to deal with her state in life, as well as that of her eccentric family and servants.  All very dramatic, of course, and depressing.  “Wanda’s Visit” focuses on a married couple, Jim (Koerschgen) and Marsha (Tidd), reaching that part of their lives which has become very routine.  But, in steps Wanda (Godell), an old flame of Jim’s from school and life becomes much more…interesting.  She is obnoxious, loud, forthright…and may just be the spark necessary to rekindle broken lives.  The last is “A Business Lunch at the Russian Tearoom.”  It presents, possibly, an all-too-real portrait of a writer (Cable) and producers/agents trying to get material on the screen.  He’s trying to stick to his artistic visions but they seem to want some outrageous plots that will shock the audience.  Shades of a very good film of past years called, The Player, with Tim Robbins.

Dinkowitz certainly knows his material and has cast it equally well.  He, being a very capable actor himself, would be considered an actor’s director and, in this case, it pays off well.  This material is not for everyone and, as mentioned, knowing something about the playwrights and foreign films would help understand the humor.  Durang’s humor may be biting but it hits the bull’s eye most of the time.  And I applaud the whole cast with some very difficult material.  They are super.

I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Precious Little--defunct theatre—SE Portland

In The Beginning

This surrealistic drama is written by Madeleine George and directed by JoAnn Johnson.  It plays at their space in back of the Common Grounds Coffee Shop at 4319 SE Hawthorne Blvd. through March 21st.  Be aware it is street parking only and no reserved seats in a small space, so plan your time accordingly.  For more information, go to their site at

Which came first, the chicken or the egg…and, when that is decided, are we, as many suggest, related to our nearest “cousins” the monkey?  This story skirts around that issue, as well as the development of language and the complexities of having children.  Heady subjects for this primeval stew of words, wit and wisdom.

It seems we have this lady, Brody (Lori Sue Hoffman), who, approaching middle-age and a lesbian, has decided to have a child.  She has carefully picked out a donor egg and is looking forward to this next great adventure in her life.  She is also a scientist, a linguist, studying lost languages of ancient civilizations.  And she seems to have a particular kinship to a gorilla (JoAnn Johnson, the director, subbing for an ailing, Jane Vogel) at the zoo.  Could this also be a distant relative and have, perhaps, a method of communication that has been lost over the years?

At her work, she is also recording words and sounds and stories from an elderly lady (Johnson, again) that may be the last surviving person of a nearly extinct tribe.  Meanwhile, back at the lab, an eager but rather insensitive doctor (Christy Bigelow) has informed her that all may not be perfect with the growing life inside of her.  So, Brody is, in essence, dealing with developing life within, dissolving life outside, and the tenuous connection among all life and the need for communication…connection…collaboration in this chaotic continuum of co-existence.  Enormous propositions offered in such a small band of time and space.  Of course, no real answers for these burning questions that are raised, but enough fuel for dialogues for hours, I’m sure.

The style the story is presented in is surrealistic, dream-like, layering overlapping stories and ideas that, like many plays I’ve reviewed recently, deal with identity and our purpose in the world.  Did we all have a common ancestor?  If so, then why so many divergences in languages, cultures, beliefs, et. al.?  Were we all one society at some point and simply hit a Tower of Babel, as in the Bible, and went our separate ways?  It is an enigma, at best.

The set (Max Ward) lends beautifully to this quasi-world that is created by George’s script.  With little adjustments it easily moves us through space and time.  And the director, Johnson, has chosen her cast well and keeps them focused and intense in their depictions of these characters and events.  Simple is best for such a complex story.  And, an added kudo, the program/poster designs for their shows are always very intriguing.  Not sure if Aldo Perez has done them all but they are a piece of art within themselves.

The cast is of three ladies, Hoffman playing the focal character and Johnson and Bigelow portraying at least three major characters each.  Hoffman is terrific as she takes you on this journey.  She gives the impression that when she delivers a line, it is the first time she has said it.  A talent all actors strive for.  Bigelow, with simply changing an article of clothing, completely transforms herself into an eager young doctor, an uneducated daughter and a tempting lover.  She is quite amazing.

And Johnson is an icon anyway of local theatre and she proves her worth here as a concerned doctor, a backwoods lady and a gorilla.  And her ape lady is extraordinary.  Not only does she have the movements down pat but watch her eyes, she is completely absorbed into that animal’s world.  I saw not a trace “acting style” in her performance as, perhaps, our “distant relative,” she simply was…the Gorilla.  I’m sure Vogel will be good also in this role but I am so please to have seen this unique artist expose her true colors in this show, not only as an actor but as a meticulous director, too.

I recommend this show but it is adult in subject matter and language.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Romeo & Juliet—Portland Actors Conservatory—SW Portland

“What’s in a Name?”

This offbeat production of the Bard’s classic is directed by Paul Angelo.  It will be playing at the PAC’s space, 1436 SW Montgomery St., through March 1st.  Be warned, it is street parking so you should allow plenty of time to find a space.  Also, they are having their Gala fund-raiser, Verona Nights, at the Benson Hotel on Saturday, March 7th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-274-1717.

There seems to be a plethora of plays lately about identities and what defines us as to who we are and our place in the world.  This, one might construe, is the ultimate version of what happens when you cross over pre-determined lines or simply ignore them.  Love and Youth are fearless and seem to have no boundaries.  But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t responsibilities and consequences for breaking or ignoring those limits.

This may be the most oft produced play of Mr. Shakespeare’s.  Some film versions that come to mind are the rather melodramatic one from the 30’s, with Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer then, there was a rather dull one with Laurence Harvey in the 50’s.  And the rather good but traditional one of Zefferelli’s in the 60’s, the excellent musical, West Side Story, and the modernized version with DiCaprio and Danes a few years back.  This latest incarnation is of a modern variety and takes place on an essentially bare stage, with impressive background music (Hal Logan, Andrew Bray and Jackson Walker) to enhance the moods.

I’m going to break a long-standing tradition and give out plot devices that might be considered “spoilers,” or revealing things the audience should discover.  I’m doing this mainly because I’m assuming most people know that—warning, spoiler alert-- R&J die, as well as some others.  Although, some of us were chatting about the death scenes at one point in the lobby of one of the film versions and a couple stalked out angrily, saying, “oh, thanks for spoiling the ending for us!”  I guess the lesson here is not to assume, so one or two of you may not know the basic story.

Another innovative step the Director made is that he has cross-gender cast some of the male roles, such as Mercutio, Tybalt and Benvolio and has double or triple cast some roles.  This gives the atmosphere of a bare-bones, grass-roots presentation, which allows more attention to be paid to the text and character development, than to the pageantry surrounding it, which can be distracting.  The only downside to this otherwise engaging production is that, at times, the voices during the intense scenes become so shrill sometimes that you lose some of the words.  Use the diaphragm, folks, not the throat, as my acting teacher use to say.

The story, in brief, for those of you who don’t know it, is that two feuding, wealthy families, the Capulets (Juliet, Tybalt, Nurse, et. al.) and Montagues (Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio, et. al.) have managed to keep an uneasy peace in their town of Verona.  That is until two of their young pups, Juliet (Shannon Mastel) and Romeo (Murren Kennedy) see, not an adversary across from them, but a human being.  And the fact that they both are in their teens and, as mention before, are fearless, they see nothing wrong in declaring their love.  But, unfortunately, the parents, in particular, Lord Capulet (Jeff Gorham), are vigorously opposed to such a union, as is a rather violent cousin, Tybalt (Taylor Jean Grady), an expert swordsman, the Prince of Cats.

Friends of Romeo’s, Mercutio (Halie Becklyn), a rather coarse, loud-mouth, semi-mentor of his and Benvolio (Gwendolyn Duffy), a cousin, also see a problem in these star-crossed lovers’ union.  These  teens, with their raging hormones, are not without their supporters, though, as the worldly Nurse (Alexandria Castelle) is Juliet’s confidant and go-between for them.  And there is Friar Laurence (Murri Lazaroff-Babin) a tutor of sorts to Romeo, who tries to help their plight which, instead, backfires.  Juliet’s father, when not in a rage over these events decides, in his ignorance, that all that is needed is that she be married, as soon as possible, to a more acceptable suitor, Paris (Therman Sisco Jr.).

By the end of this ill-fated story, five young people are dead, for the simple reasons that two families chose not to get along.  Sad, sad, sad.  Any implied relationship to current events of cultures, races, countries not being able to find common grounds of mutual acceptance is purely…intentional.

The staging of the fight scenes (Kristen Mun) is definitely some of the highlights of the show.  The deaths of Tybalt and Mercurtio are simply but beautifully staged and Capulet’s violent confrontation with his family is both frightening but dance-like in its execution.  And Director, Angelo, always produces plays with some interesting twists and turns to the style.  He has chosen his cast well and I applaud the cross-gender casting.  The best person for the role, regardless of age, gender or color—absolutely!

Gorman is a pro and is always worth watching onstage.  His maniacal Capulet is quite an original—in short, a human monster.  Grady seems possessed when playing the hot-blooded Tybalt until she realizes that she has caused a death and then the rage seems to dissipate, and she appears very human.  A wonderful creation, hope to see more of her onstage.  Becklyn alienates us with her character’s bravado but then reclaims us with her very touching death scene.  Nicely done.

Casteele gives us an unusually coarse and crude, Nurse, and closer in age, it seems, to Juliet, so that they identify with each other somewhat, and it works.  Mastel and Kennedy do well in presenting the high-strung lovers.  And Lazaroff-Babin as the dim-witted servant, Peter, and then flip-flops to the humane Friar, almost steals the show.  His versatility and talent is very obvious.  Bravo!

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940—North End Players—N. Portland


This murder-mystery spoof is written by John Bishop and directed by J. J. Harris (Managing Director for the company).  It is playing at 7600 N. Hereford Ave. (just off Lombard, near the St. John’s area) through February 28th.  For more information, go to their site at

Murder mysteries are one of the most popular types of reading material around, the classic writer of them probably being Agatha Christie.  And her play, The Mousetrap, and her novel, Ten Little Indians (politically incorrect title by today’s standards, I’m sure, but her original title was even more incorrect) were the icons of this genre.  Anyway, there are certain ingredients necessary for all whodunit mysteries (and spoofs of them):  A stormy night; a group stranded in a place with no outside communication; secret passages; some people not being who they seem; a murder or three; and contrived situations to make it all work.

In this case, it is a group of theatre folk who are supposedly being auditioned for a Broadway musical.  The place is the mansion of Elsa Von Grossenknueten (don’t even try to pronounce it), a backer of plays.  But it seems that Elsa (Debra Hudkins) has ulterior motives, as she is working with the police, Sgt. Kelly (Tony Domingue), disguised as a mild-mannered servant, to ferret out the Stage-door Slasher (George Spelvin—no, I’m not a spoiler, this name is an alias commonly used in plays where the actor doesn’t want to use his real name) an unidentified killer of dancers, from a show all these characters were involved with a few years back.

Together again are the flitting, fey Director, Ken (Breon McMullin), still trying to make his mark in show biz, as all his Hollywood films are still unreleased; some composers, the persistent pianist, Roger (Rob Harris) and his loony lush of a partner, Bernice (Kelli Lacey); then there is the irascible, Irish tenor, Patrick (Julian Dominic); also the clever, comic actor, Eddie (Joey Rivera), who no one takes seriously; Nikki (Sara Smith), the lovely, leggy dancer; a potential blatantly, brave producer, Majorie (Amanda Anderson); and, as always, a servant, the curiously, coarse maid, Helsa (Sue Harris).

Unfortunately, that is about all I can tell you of the plot because it is, after all, a mystery, and there are so many twists and turns and revelations in it that, to reveal more, would be spoiling some of the discoveries the audience should make.  As a script, it is quite good for the most part, following the conventional lines of spoofing a genre.  But there are several false endings in the second act that drag the play out more than it should.  But the execution of the play is very entertaining with some very funny bits and characters that are well presented.

Some of my favorite comic bits, that all also garnered applause from the audience, was the exchange between Hudkins and Domingue, a type of Charades, in which he is trying to communicate to her, without revealing his true identity to the others, the facts of the case.  Also there is a wonderful tongue-twister by Rivera, as he attempts to explain all the various identities of one of the characters.  And the attempted murder/love-making scene by two of the characters, as Rivera attempts to discreetly get some bottles of wine from the bar.  Wonderful!

The other amazing thing is that Harris has managed to put a lot of action and movement in his scenes in such a small space with a rather large cast.  Quite an accomplishment, I’d say.  To his credit, the comedy works, as do the mystery elements.  The set by the director and cast is very serviceable and the costumes, by Ellen Spitaleri, seem authentic for the period.  I should add that most of the names of film actors spewed out by the character of Ken, I recognized, being a bit of a trivia nut in that regard myself, and are authentic.

A note about comedy, usually there are one or more comedic roles in such a show, obviously, but it was considered that the straight-man, a somewhat thankless role, was the anchor to the show and often got paid more than the comic actor.  In this show both Domingue and Smith occupy these places and both do those positions justice.  Hudkins, as the matriarch of this “family,” give a delicious mock sophistication to the proceedings.  She’s a pro and it shows.  McMullin is a delight as he flits about the stage, ala a Noel Coward-type.  Harris, in the complicated role as the maid is maddeningly adept at creating chaotic confusion.  Lacey, channeling The Nanny’s speech pattern, perhaps, is absolutely tops as the kooky writer.  And Rivera is excellent as the comic, totally convincing and delightful in his portrayal.

I recommend this play, as it’s a hoot.  If you do choose to see it, tell them Dennis sent you.

Friday, February 13, 2015

How to End Poverty in 90 Minutes—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

The Long and the Short of It

This interactive play is conceived and written by Michael Rohd and the Sojourn Theatre.  It is directed by Lian Kaas-Lentz and plays through February 22nd at their space at 602 NE Prescott St. (parking lot is about 2 blocks north of the theatre).  For more information, go to their site at

This is a tough question with no easy answer.  So, what can be accomplished in 90 minutes, you may say?  A thousand dollars is distributed to someone or some organization and, probably most importantly, it gets people talking about it.  Dialogue is the key to any solution to any problem.  When the digging for answers stops, and solutions found, then the erecting of a firm foundation can begin.

And the start here is to identify what needs to change or how help should be administered to accomplish change.  This group labels five areas for consideration:  Direct Aid to a person or group; System Changes to the way things are done; Education to individuals or groups; Making Opportunities for individuals; and Daily Needs for a person or group.  At the end of the evening, the thousand dollars will go to one of those areas that is decided by the majority of the audience/participants.

The audience is divided into smaller groups with one of the actors as their coach, asking questions, encouraging discussions and coming up with solutions for various problems.  One is bombarded with tons of information to use as a basis for our decisions such as, almost a fifth of the population is considered to be on or under the poverty line and, of that, a higher percentage are people of color.  Many children who go to school, the meal they get there is perhaps the only hot meal they’ll have for the day.    One must try to work and at the same time balance medical and food cost, with getting a better education or training, coupled with dealing with transportation, and finding adequate housing, and clothing for family members, etc.  And with no help from the outside, the inside may collapse.

The actors also present scenarios of, I’m sure, real life situations of various individuals that have encountered roadblocks along the way.  The cast of six main actors (unnamed, I’m sorry to say, because there was no program) are quite effective and seem earnest in their quest for helping to find the causes for such dilemmas.  They are rousing in their presentations and certainly have created a giant step in garnering attention for the poor and destitute.

All one can hope for at the end of this time period is that some of those concerned and awakened individuals in the audience will carry the torch beyond the theatre and light a way for future changes.  My friend and I certainly talked into the early hours afterward about the issues presented.  Some insights I have gleaned over the years is that, as Atticus Fitch (To Kill a Mockingbird) has espoused, that in order to really understand another person’s plight, you have to get inside their skin and walk around in it for a bit.  Yes, easier said than done.

But a step in that direction might be is to ask that person on the street what he really needs in order to improve his condition for the future.  A bureaucracy or politician (unfortunately, the controllers of the purse strings) may have all the fancy degrees and necessary clout but have little or any knowledge of the real situations inside those cardboard castles.  That control should be given to those brave individuals that are underpaid and overworked but are at ground level with those survivors.  It might be good to remember that many of us are, or have been, one step away from the bread line at some point in our lives.  Lest we forget…

My own personal take is, if I had an unlimited amount of money to donate toward these issues, how would I distribute it?  The major question to be considered for me would be, is the amount I give going to be sustainable.  In other words, if I give X amount to this person or group today, will I have to give the same amount to them tomorrow, ad infinitum…?  Or is there a way that that same amount could create a way of sustaining itself in a program that will create its own returns?

My friend and I recalled an adage that said if you gave a person a fish, it will feed him for a day.  But if you taught them how to fish, they could feed themselves for a lifetime.  Food for thought, I would say…

I recommend this presentation.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Zen Shorts—Tears of Joy Theatre—SE Portland

The Art of Breathing

This presentation by Rogue Artists Ensemble, suitable for all ages, is based on short stories by Jon J. Muth and adapted for the stage by Elizabeth Wong, Skyler Gray, Sean T. Cawelti (Director), Miles Taber, Matthew Hill, Landon Johnson and the Rogue Artists Ensemble, with music and songs by Thu Tran, Sarah Peters and Noelle Hoffman.  It plays through February 15th at the Imago space at 17 SE 8th Ave.  For more information, go to their sites at or or call 503-248-0557.

After a couple weeks of reviewing plays about family angst, holocaust survivors, the art of love, identity crisis, gender questions and entering a week of reviewing shows on murder, ending poverty and a rock ‘n’ roll Shakespeare, I needed a few Zen moments on Sunday.  Zen, briefly, is the Asian/Buddhism art of meditation, to relax the mind so that you can receive enlightenment.  A couple of films come to mind covering similar grounds, the rather good, animated film, Kung Fu Panda and The Karate Kid.

You must understand, this type of “lesson” is presented by puppets, visual aids, music, song and simple settings.  But, be warned, the organization is not responsible for any sudden outbursts of good will, drowsy or coma-like behavior, unplanned for smiles and quiet laughter, or acts of blatant generosity after experiencing this presentation.  And the performers, mostly unseen, playing all the roles and songs, including the visuals, Amy Gray, Andrew Fridae, Joel Patrick Durham, McKenna Twedt and Miles Taber are absolutely amazing!

The main thread of the story is that a young boy, Michael, bored and home on a rainy day, only seems to want to be playing at his video game that he is obsessed with (sound familiar?).  His younger sister, Abbie, is bored too, and wants her big brother to play with her.  In a rage, because she has interrupted his game, which he loses, he tears up her drawing of a Panda Bear.  Suddenly an actual Panda does appear and wants them to take a journey with him, in which, he will impart stories, or lessons to them, about Life.  Not unlike, perhaps, Aesop’s Fables or Christ’s Parables.

The first story concerns his Uncle Ry, a bird, and how a robber, a raccoon, broke into his house and how Ry was disappointed that he had nothing worth stealing to give the man.  The second tale concerns a Farmer and how bad luck, his son breaking his leg, can actually be seen as good luck, when he is recruited.  Maybe.  And the third one concerns a mean old lady being helped by an old Samurai across a raging stream with nary a word of thanks to him.  This lesson involves not being passive aggressive. 

These are only thumbnail sketches of the stories because I don’t want to give away too much.  But, suffice to say, the lessons are taken to heart by both children.  Also, it is not so much the tales that are interesting, but the way and style in which they’re told.  They use a forced perspective approach at times, slide shows, stick puppets, et al. in relating the “lessons.”  If you want a hint of how it may affect you, simply slowly inhale and exhale for about ten seconds when you are stressed, frustrated or confused, and then see if things become clearer to you.  Or, what I do, sleep on it.

Tears of Joy and their partners, Rogue Artists Ensemble, offer about an hour’s entertainment but, I predict, you will feel differently, better, after one of these presentations.  The puppets are wonderful, as are the calming music and songs and visual enhancements.  TOJ is always interesting and unusual in what they choose to produce and always worthwhile.  Give them a try…and remember to breathe.

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

Tribes—Artists Rep.—SW Portland


This intense play is written by Nina Raine and directed by D├ímaso Rodriguez (Artist Rep.’s Artistic Director).  It is performing at their space at SW Alder St. & 16th Ave. through March 1st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-241-1278.
Briefly, as defined in the dictionary, a Tribe is a group sharing common traits.  A family or clan can be considered a tribe.  A community, also, and a culture can be tribal.  Or a creed, or physical characteristics, or political ideology can fit into this rather broad category.  But, within all that, there is still another need—a personal identity…who am I, really…where do I belong…how do I want to be regarded.  Not easy questions to answer.

Billy (Stephen Drabicki) was born deaf but has an implant so he can speak.  He was not regarded as handicapped in any way because his autocratic father, Christopher (Michael Mendelson) and his novelist mother, Beth (Linda Alper) have chosen to treat him as part of their tribe, a speaking one.  His pot-head of a brother, Daniel (Joshua J. Weinstein), who also hears voices in his head, treats him as an equal.  His opera-singing sister, Ruth (Kayla Lian), also accepts him as part of their clan.

You’ve noticed the problem right away, of course, all of these descriptives of family members, opera…pot-head…writer…mental problems…deafness, also are sub-tribes, if you will, of the chief tribe, family.  So the dilemma still remains…where do I belong?   Although this family of intellects, albeit dysfunctional, do manage to reach some sort of a rocky compromise of existence, although by no means happy.  In short, they tolerate each other and that’s about it.

Everything might have stayed the same expect that Billy meets a girl, Sylvia (Amy Newman) who hears, but was born of deaf parents, so she signs.  Billy has never learned sign but he does lip read and hears, because of the implant, to some extent.  They both have one foot in both worlds.  It soon becomes apparent that Billy must decide which world he embraces.  And his family is going to face a similar dilemma, if they are to hold on to their “tribal” member.  To reveal more would be giving away discoveries an audience must experience.

Some absolutely essential questions are asked in this play and no easy answers forthcoming.  What it should spurn is some dialogue, in whatever form, for the viewers.  There have been plays/films about deafness, the ones that immediately come to my mind are the rock opera, Tommy, and the play/movie, Children of a Lesser God.  Again, no easy answers, just interesting perspectives.  It is said that Marlee Matlin, a deaf actress and Academy Award winner for the film, eventually got implants and began speaking in films.  Much of the deaf community shunned her after that.

My own personal experience happened as I was asked to voice actors in the NW Theatre of the Deaf’s, The Fantasticks.  Not knowing sign, I got a crash course in it, as I was to voice three parts in the show.  I made messy attempts to try and communicate in sign language with them, even going so far as writing a poem and then signing it to a girl in the production that I was a bit smitten with.  The one thing this experience taught me is that if you at least attempt, however clumsily, to communicate to others in their language, they appreciate it and will do their best to help you out.  A word to the wise, perhaps.

The cast is dynamic in presenting this play.  Mendelson, as the father of the tribe, could have easily been a one-dimensional character but, in his capable hands, you see all the colors of the rainbow.  Alper, too, as the mother, is a pro and although you see and understand her anger, you also see her vulnerable side.  Both true artists.  Weinstein, as one son and Lian, as the daughter, both are complex roles, having their moments of lucidity and frustration, and well played by these fine, young actors.

Newman, as the girlfriend, is a true joy to watch.  The journey she takes in her difficult path in life is admirable.  She does a fine job of allowing you to experience it with her.  And Drabicki, as the other son, gives a heart-breaking performance in a difficult role, wanting to be understood but not feeling he belongs, looking, as we all are, for his place in the world.  Well done.

Rodriguez has steered this emotional roller coaster from its intense peaks to its quieter valleys with a deft hand.  He obviously understands actors and speaks their language.  And he, and scenic designer, Tal Sanders, have created an intriguing visual world to help convey the feelings of the conventional world.  The music and colors created at the end of Act I brought a tear to my eye.

On final personal note, I consider myself in the Artist’s world, especially the performing arts.  When I get in discussions with other actors, directors, writers, the rest of the world takes a back seat to the passion I feel in those exchanges.  But I also must realize that others, having different interests and tribes they belong to, might get lost in these moments.  I have learned to be an active listener to others and must appreciate that it takes all kinds to build a world.

I recommend this play.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.